I am not sure why we do this, but whenever an NBA player is drafted highly and fails, we calls him a bust.
That has always seemed rather strange to me. Why is the player a bust and not the people who drafted him? Was the player supposed to tell the general manager, “No, boss. Don’t give me millions of dollars. I am really a fringe NBA player at best”? It is actually the scouts and general managers who failed, not the player.
No matter. It is the culture of sports. We call people failures based on others’ expectations… at least when the projected good-to-great prospect fails to live up to other people’s expectations.
Still, the players taken early in the draft, who sometimes fail outright or don’t end up being an annual All-Star, become fodder for those who cover and enjoy the league. It is as though such players are fair game to become running jokes because they stumbled in pursuing their desired profession.
I don’t like it one bit.
Recently, the former No. 5 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, made an attempted return to the league. After playing for 11 different teams abroad, after an eight-year absence from his last stint in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns in 2006, Tskitishvili was getting another shot to realize his dream.
Except he failed to do so. The Clippers waived the seven-footer after only one preseason outing, a game in which he did not appear, and the realm of social media decided to do what it does best — kick a man while he is down for reasons only known as ‘bad attempts at being funny’ or something.
I won’t point fingers at specific NBA writers or fans for using Nikoloz Tskitishvili as a punching bag. Rather, I merely want to know why we do such things, especially when a story of perseverance can be told instead.
Full disclosure: I have done the “bad jokes at another’s expense,” too. This is not an attempt by me to be high and mighty or look down on those who use another person’s shortcomings as a way to make some giggles. But to be honest, this is an always-puzzling situation to handle.
We don’t mock or make fun of people in other professions who have struggled to stay at the pinnacle of their respected careers. The exception, I suppose, is when a CEO gets busted for doing something horrible, and it is open season for mocking a usually-out-of-touch jerk.
Yet, Nikoloz Tskitishvili didn’t do anything horrible. He just so happens to not be one of the best few hundred basketball players on the entire planet. That doesn’t mean he is bad at basketball, as his “getting another shot” to land a roster spot in the NBA should be a sign that he at least deserved an attempt at getting back into the league. Failing to get that spot simply means he isn’t in the top one-ish percent of people who have desired to play NBA basketball.
There are more licensed doctors than “qualified” NBA players. That horrible analogy lets you know how hard it has to be to even BECOME the very worst player in the NBA — who probably happens to be one million times better than the best player at any of our adult leagues, in which we all think we are the best version of Stephon Marbury.
It is tricky. How does one show empathy for a guy failing to fulfill his dream without it crossing the (fictional) “can we just have fun sometimes” barometer? It more likely falls into the ‘relatively speaking’ column of thought, as I doubt very few of the people poking fun at Tskitishvili’s failings are doing so out of ill will.
Relatively speaking, in the context of the NBA and sports, Nikoloz Tskitishvili’s story remains a strange one. It’s a path that isn’t often traveled, and it is hard to resist a former “NBA Draft bust” being rejected by the NBA once more after such a lengthy absence.
Regardless, Tskitishvili is still a billion times better at his job than most of us are at ours. He reached the pinnacle of it when he was drafted in 2002, staying in the league for a few years more than 99.99 percent of all other humans roaming the planet, and even managed to get one more shot with the Clippers years after he was banished from the league for being “bad.”
Maybe we shouldn’t make fun of his failings. Maybe we should praise his perseverance and salute him for making it all the way from lottery selection, to bust, to ousted from the NBA entirely, all the way to getting a legitimate chance to get back in the league nearly a decade later.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili is a hero to those chasing their dreams. He’s not a punchline.